Putting the social buzz in venues by going big

April 26, 2011 by Dave Haynes

Think about a college campus student center, the main concourse intersections of a mall, or the prime entry area of a mall – and the idea of making the buzz – the social stream of what people are thinking and talking about – the primary element of the visual landscape in those settings.

When shoppers walk into the mall’s center court, a mash-up of filtered social streams is reflecting what people are talking about – the great sale at a fashion retailer, a new smartphone launch, or the food at a new restaurant off at one end.

In a convention center, the stream is flagging who’s about to talk in a conference room, hot new product sightings, industry buzz, and events that evening.

Same sort of thing on a campus, in an airport, a major rail hub … really anywhere that a lot of people gather and pass through, and have similart things on their minds.

Display or projection technology can dominate the visuals in a large area in ways not really feasible (or even technically possible) not all that long ago. Instead of a screen on a wall, they can BE the wall.

The idea of embedding social streams on displays in public places is certainly not new, but what is new are ways to make those efforts more effective and sustainable. Running Twitter or texting visualizations on a monitor looks cool, but the monitor needs to get noticed – in an environment where there are many other things to also notice. BIG visuals change all that. They are THE focal points when done right.

In the same vein, there are companies doing the work to make these streams better filtered and moderated – whether by man or machine – so the buzz that makes it to screens is worthwhile and also suitable for audiences.

There is undoubtedly room in places like coffee shops and clubs for smaller screens. The settings are far more intimate and people are spending more time. They’ll get noticed and people will engage.

But the experience of companies like Locamoda and ScreenReach, working off big LED board canvases, is much more intriguing and has, I think,potential in a lot of settings where people gather. And not just for ads, contests and promotions.

I am definitely not a social media expert. Some of it I, frankly, still don’t get. But I do understand the notion of  listening to what people are saying, and working with the tools they use. Trends develop and opinions form in very new, very different ways these days, and these emerging platforms can be powerful and highly influential.

What got me thinking about this was a visual this morning in a ReadWriteWeb piece suggesting how TV and the web are merging. The piece is about the TV news network Al Jazeera, which has launched a new media property – on both TV and the Web, called The Stream.

The premise is that this effort offers strong hints as to where mainstream TV news is heading. The show uses social media curation service Storify – which opened up to the public today – to gather content and interact with the community. The Stream is unique in its use of tools like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to both source the news and interact with its audience.

The set of the show has what, I assume, is a projection backdrop of a social stream. It’s not a goofy ticker or some bolt-on visual element. It is THE visual focal point apart from the people talking. It’s a strong suggestion of how this could be applied to other visual landscapes, like malls and event centers.

Right now, social integration in digital signage (with some notable exceptions) is something visualized on a monitor that the operators HOPE some people might notice. The next step in making this sort of integration truly impactful is to make the visual impossible not to notice, and ensure what’s on there is relevant.

We are a sector fixated on getting people to notice smallish screens in large visual areas, and worried to death that the future is all about consumers being fixated on the really small mobile screens they carry around, never noticing the screens on walls and hanging from above.

Make the digital visual so large they can’t not be noticed, reflect what people are talking about and get more engaged, and maybe that’s another piece of this big digital communications puzzle we’re all trying to sort out.


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